11 Research-Based Benefits of Hiking
Hiking exists as a continuum. From a gentle stroll on a path in the woods to climbing up a mountain, it takes many forms.
Physical activity and exercise have a wide range of health benefits. However, hiking is special in that it offers an opportunity to combine the health benefits of physical exercise with the benefits of being outdoors among nature.
This means that hiking isn’t just great for your body, it’s great for your mind too!Hiking has been shown to improve a range of health issues by reducing blood pressure and stress but how much do you need to do to get these benefits?
Do you need to commit every weekend to trek up hills or is once a month enough? Is it better to go alone or with other people? If you want to get the most out of your hiking experience, we’ve got the science (and experiences!) to show you how.
More Info: Hiking can be dangerous if you aren’t prepared, so check out our guide to the ten essentials (and seven suggested extras to bring!) to make sure you take the must-haves with you
Going hiking isn’t just a fun day out, it also comes with lots of potential benefits for your health and wellbeing:
Keeping fit and in shape
Strengthen your heart
Get a good night’s sleep
Manage diseases like diabetes and osteoporosis better
Reduce your stress levels
Manage mental health issues
Boost your happiness
Bond with your family
Enhance your memory
Benefits for Physical Health
Get in Shape!
Obesity and severe obesity in the USA have been increasing since 2000 with recent surveys finding 42.4% of the adult population obese.
Hiking is a fantastic form of physical exercise that burns calories. Alongside a healthy diet, this is a key part of losing weight and reducing obesity.
A key characteristic of hiking is the uneven terrain outside urban environments. Smooth surfaces cost less energy to navigate, meaning hiking is more strenuous than walking.
You’ll definitely feel the burn after taking on steep inclines
30-minutes of hiking for the average American burns between 223-266 calories. This is equal with 30-minutes of swimming and about 40 calories higher than other outdoor sports like kayaking and whitewater rafting.
Tip: If you’re thinking about taking up hiking to lose weight, consider getting some poles or walking sticks to help with balance.
After a 12-week study into the effects of trekking exercise on health benefits in older obese women, Dr. Kang found that hiking played a significant role in the reduction of weight among the participants. They also recorded lower blood pressure.
Research on using hiking as a tool to fight childhood obesity found that alongside a strict hypocaloric diet (low calorie) the activity played a relevant role in weight loss.
Hiking isn’t just good for weight loss – it’s also a great leg and core workout! Trekking up and down hills gives your legs a real workout. And if you’re carrying a backpack, you will engage your core as you balance yourself with the extra weight.
In the US, Walk With a Doc has spread to 47 states. It offers free physician-led community walks in the name of public health. These walks can be a good way to build up to longer hikes.
References Bülbül, S. (2020) Exercise in the treatment of childhood obesity, Turkish Archives of Pediatrics, 55(1) 2-10 Kang, S. (2014) Trekking exercise promotes cardiovascular health and fitness benefits in older obese women, Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, 10(4) 225-229 Voloshina, A. S., Kuo, A. D., Daley, M. A., & Ferris, D. P. (2013). Biomechanics and energetics of walking on uneven terrain. Journal of Experimental Biology, 216(21), 3963–3970
A Healthy Heart
Almost 1 in 4 deaths in America are the result of heart disease, with someone having a heart attack every 40 seconds.
It has been established that increasing physical activity can help prevent and manage cardiovascular disease. A recent study found that as the amount of walking decreased among participants, the risk of cardiovascular disease increased. Hiking through a forest has been shown to decrease systolic blood pressure by 1.4% and heart rate by 5.8%.
A sedentary lifestyle will increase the likelihood of developing cardiovascular problems. Hiking is a form of
physical exercise accessible to many people that can alleviate the risk caused by a sedentary lifestyle.
Tip: Hiking with pre-existing heart conditions can be dangerous – one of the biggest causes of death in the wilderness is cardiac arrest. So be careful not to push too hard, too fast.
References Mitazaki, et al. (2011) Preventive medical effects of nature therapy, Nihon Eiseigaku Zasshi, 66(4), 651-656 Omura, et al. (2019). Walking as an Opportunity for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention. Preventing Chronic Disease, 16.